We’re continuing our ongoing coverage of PAX East 2020 by highlighting two more games that stood out from the rest on the show floor today.
Before deciding to go into the profession I’m in now, one of my early childhood and high school dreams was to become a marine biologist. I always had an affinity for the ocean and the prospect of studying and discovering all the mysteries she holds was, and still is, highly attractive to me. Now with Beyond Blue, I can somewhat live that dream even in this different life I have chosen.
Beyond Blue is a narrative-driven diving simulator developed in collaboration with BBC Studios to complement the release of the documentary Blue Planet II. The entire game takes place underwater as you control a marine biologist as she flutters about the waters recording data on the various creatures around her.
The first thing immediately noticeable is just how drop-dead gorgeous the game is, almost perfectly reproducing this oftentimes alien landscape and, perhaps even more impressive, imitating how light behaves underwater. The way light rays refract on the surfaces of coral and other creatures is nothing short of astonishing.
This detail, of course, carries over to the marine fauna themselves. In my demo I came across sperm whales, devil rays, dolphins, octopi, and much more. Developers E-Line Media worked closely with professionals in the marine biology field to replicate these oftentimes majestic beings both in form and motion and it shows. Movements are smooth and natural, but it’s the small details like the battle scars on a whale’s body or how dolphins will playfully swim along with you that really sell the idea of actually being in this beautiful world.
All the while, our marine biologist friend is engaging in playful banter with her team on the surface. Their lighthearted exchanges provide some levity and add to the already calming nature of the game, as well as provide you with cues for what to do next to progress the investigation (once you’re done being distracted by anything and everything that moves). They also interject with the occasional factoid on whatever you may be looking at, which feeds into the educational aspect of Beyond Blue.
Being made alongside the creation of a documentary means that Beyond Blue actually has little mini video clips called Ocean Insights taken straight from footage of Blue Planet II as well as other academic sources that go into further detail on some of the creatures you encounter while playing.
Beyond Blue certainly won’t be a game for everyone; it’s soothing and slow-paced with no actual danger or air management (it takes place ten or so years in the future where rebreather technology has advanced), and I couldn’t really get a sense of how strong a push the core narrative will be to keep playing. For anyone that’s a marine biology nut like myself, though, it’s almost like a dream game, and that’s only after the basic dive I played today. E-Line Media promises more interesting atoll, night, and even deep-sea abyssal dives later in the game that will be packed with even more foreign scenery to explore–and that makes me positively giddy with excitement. If the idea of swimming with the digital fishes excites you, too, then look out for when Beyond Blue releases for Steam, PS4, and Xbox One this April.
I first saw Phogs! at PAX East two years ago in a tiny little booth tucked away in the Indie MegaBooth. It then grew in size last year and again this year to a booth all on its own right next to XSEED and Nintendo’s with a line wait time upwards of two hours! After finally getting some hands-on time with this physics-based puzzle game, I can understand why.
Physics dogs. Phogs. Simple right? A buddy and I sat down for a co-op session controlling one such phog (or “phoggo” as we were taught). Take a gelatinous cylindrical tube and slap a dog head on each end and you’ve got yourself a phog, and in co-op each player controls one of those two heads. The controls are simple; you can move your head with the control stick, hop or bite onto things with a button press, or stretch your mysterious connective tissue to great lengths by holding a trigger. Like any good puzzler, though, it’s how Phogs! makes you use this simple toolset that makes it actually engaging and fun.
In the tutorial stage alone we learned how to swing from suspended hoops by alternating the head that bites, how to slingshot our phog across long distances by anchoring one head to a post and stretching the other out before snapping it back, and how to wrap our stretchy body around large balls to corral them into holes. None of these skills were explicitly taught through demonstration or text, but rather through environmental cues or just good ol’ experimentation.
The learning process continued outside into the main game where we got to choose between food, sleep, and play worlds (the holy trifecta for any respectable mutt). We departed for the play world where we were greeted with seagulls to chase and beach balls to roll around amongst the plethora of puzzles. Some of the most fun moments were shouting at and being shouted at by my friend as we haphazardly tried to coordinate our movements to mixed results and, more often than not, raucous laughter. Phogs! is rather forgiving in that nothing that can bring harm nor foul to your spaghetti canine, so there’s nothing wrong with the occasional troll here and there to spice things up a bit.
Fortunately, we were on the same page when it came to finding the golden dog bone collectibles, as we were the only media members at the show thus far that managed to find all of them during our demo session. The little treats are scattered about to encourage either exploration of the level or using something you’ve learned and taking it one step further. These bones were nice pats on the back, but could also be exchanged for cosmetic hats in the hub world. Anyone who speaks ill of my adorable, hibiscus wearing phoggo will pay dearly for their crimes.
We only got to play one of the six stages in the play world, but it already demonstrated the whimsy and creativity Phogs! is capable of and made us excited to see what was in store in future levels, much less the untouched sleep and food worlds. While we played co-op style, the game can also be played single-player with each head of the phog corresponding to one of the control sticks on a controller. Online co-op with friends and strangers will also be available when Phogs! releases on all modern consoles and Steam this June.